Ghosts (Photo: Yuki and the Funeral Procession In Front of Our House)
It’s strange. Soo, an English student of mine, told me a story about her grandmother when she first came to my class last year. When she was a kid, she would often visit her grandmother in Korea. Later when she was in her twenties, she heard that her grandmother’s health was not so well, so Soo decided to go to Korea for a year to learn Korean and take care of her. The day she arrived in Korea, her grandmother had died.
I got an email from Soo back in October telling me that she was packing and finally leaving for her big month long vacation to Australia the next day. That same day she arrived in Australia, I got an email from my mother... My grandmother had died.
During our second class together, Soo and I talked about growing up and we found that we had many things in common. Our parents were both immigrants – mine came from Taiwan and moved to America, hers moved from Korea to Japan – and we both grew up feeling out of place in our own countries and in the countries our parents had come from.
When Soo was eight, she had visited her grandmother’s house for the first time. Her family was busy greeting relatives then, so she had no one to talk to; and the place where her grandmother lived was too rural for a young girl who had grown up in Tokyo her whole life to really enjoy it, so Soo ended up hating it there.
One day at her grandmother’s, she discovered a big door painted red on the side of the house. It was such a deep colored red that Soo immediately felt drawn to it as if the door was pulling her. She wanted to know what was inside, but for some reason she couldn’t bring herself to open it. For the rest of the trip, she kept going back to the door, but still couldn’t do it- she couldn’t even ask someone about it.
In the following years, Soo made many more trips back to her grandmother’s place, but still every time she could not open it and always continued to wonder what lied behind the door…
When she was twenty-six, she returned back for her grandmother’s funeral. This time, for some reason, she could finally open the door. There was nothing holding her back anymore. Inside there were mounds of onions, potatoes, and bright red togarashii (chili peppers). There wasn’t anything that special or mysterious inside, but still it made her feel good seeing those vegetables. It reminded her of her grandma’s cooking. That night her mom and aunt made dinner using those ingredients.
After she told me the story, I asked Soo why she thought she couldn’t open the door for almost two decades… She answered that maybe it was because she was so lonely when she had first visited her grandmother’s house because she had no one to talk to or play with. When she discovered the red door, it was something exciting like finding a toy. If she opened it, it would be gone forever…
It was pretty tough to deal with my grandmother’s death when I first heard about it, so I stayed home all that day. In the evening, I decided to make curry because it felt homey - like something a mother would make for her kid, which was a feeling that I needed. I made a big pot… maybe enough for 5 or six people even though it was just for me. Kind of out of a joke and also kind of serious, I decided to make a small plate for my grandmother as well like an Asian offering. I set our plates as well as cups for beer on the coffee table in the living room since I was going to watch the TV show Entourage, but was too lazy to go back to the kitchen to get a bottle opener, so I just used my belt. It had a metal buckle, which I used to open bottles sometimes. While I was trying to open the bottle, my buckle suddenly shattered into pieces all over the floor. It was kind of a shock and was really sad for me because that was my only belt, which I had bought when I first moved to Taiwan 7 years ago. Not only did I lose my grandma, but I also lost my belt that day. Anyways I cleaned up the mess, and then went to the kitchen to get a proper opener. I poured her and myself some beer, said cheers in Chinese, and then turned on Entourage.
That belt incident was kind of eerie because it, too, was connected to Taiwan... At first, I was wondering if setting the plate for my grandma next to the TV was a bad thing to do because I didn’t do it properly, but the next day I was thinking about it in a different perspective. Maybe my grandma was just telling me that she was there and was looking forward to eating my curry, drinking beer and watching Entourage with me.